At the end of October 1988 I came to work as the associate editor of the Braille Monitor. I knew nothing about publishing magazines; until that time I had been a college administrator and had written nothing longer than a brochure. But Kenneth Jernigan thought he could make a journalist of me, and I agreed to let him try.
For ten wonderful and demanding years it was my pleasure and challenge to work with him (quite intensively during the first several years) to write and publish the Monitor. In the April 1993 issue Dr. Jernigan announced that I would be taking over as editor. In fact for all practical purposes I had already been editing it for the preceding two years. As he remarked teasingly to me on more than one occasion in the months before his announcement, the time had come to make the transition official so that people would not blame him for the mistakes I made.
For almost sixteen years now I have been the acknowledged editor of the Braille Monitor, and the time is coming for me to step aside from this important work and allow someone else to carry forward the responsibility. Editing the Monitor is a complex and demanding job. In addition to journalistic skills, it requires a solid grasp of the political situation in the blindness field and the Federation and full appreciation and understanding of the NFB’s philosophy of blindness.
Attentive Monitor readershave undoubtedly noticed that for the last eighteen months or so Dan Frye’s byline has been appearing more and more frequently in the Monitor. Beginning with this issue, he officially becomes the associate editor of the Braille Monitor.
Dan has been a member of the NFB since 1982. He received an NFB scholarship in 1990 and graduated that year from Erskine College in South Carolina. He went all the way to Washington State to earn his J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law in 1993. He has worked for the Social Security Administration and as the national advocate for the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand. For several years he was the manager of advocacy and training in the NFB’s Department of Affiliate Action at the National Center for the Blind.
Dan was the first president of a junior NFB chapter formed at the South Carolina School for the Blind. He has also served as president of the North Dakota affiliate and the Seattle Chapter. He has been an affiliate board member in both South Carolina and Washington, and he has also served as a member of the National Association of Blind Students and the National Association of Blind Lawyers boards of directors. Dan stands firmly in the tradition of Monitor editors who have been active at every level of the Federation throughout their years of membership. I am confident that Dan will also continue the Monitor’s tradition of commitment to excellence and accuracy. I expect to continue as Monitor editor for the remainder of this year and perhaps to continue to assist Dan once we have made the transition. With this announcement the road ahead for the Braille Monitor is now considerably clearer than it has been for some time. It is interesting to put our future plans into the context of the magazine’s history.
It is not easy, however, to keep the Monitor’s history clearly in mind. After all, a lot has gone on in over fifty years of almost continuous publication. In 1993 Dr. Jernigan made a point of writing down everything he could remember about the history of the Monitor. We thought it would be instructive to take this occasion to reprint parts of his recollections. We have taken the liberty of combining several sections of his Monitor history. You can consult the April 1993 issue of the Braille Monitor for the complete text.
If we are to deal successfully with the present and the future, we must understand the past. This is true of nations and organizations, and it is also true of the Braille Monitor. So let me talk about history.
Originally, as many of you know, the Monitor was not the Monitor. It was the All Story Braille Magazine, and merely carried what was called a "Legislative Supplement from the National Federation of the Blind." For much of its existence the All Story was published bimonthly, and only in Braille. It was not produced by the National Federation of the Blind but by the American Brotherhood for the Blind.
The earliest issue of the All Story that I have in my possession [now part of the tenBroek Library and shelved in the large, fourth-floor conference room at the National Center] is the one for March 1949. Until a few years ago, the earliest issue we had here at NFB headquarters was February–March 1955. Then we found one copy each of March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October of 1949. The title All Story Magazine was apt and descriptive. For example, here is the contents page from the March 1949 issue:
Married This Morning
by Irene Kittle Camp
(reprinted from Good Housekeeping magazine)
by Laurence Critchell
(reprinted from Collier's)
by Libbie Block
(reprinted from McCall's)
Legislation for the Blind
by Dr. Newel Perry
I don't know when the American Brotherhood for the Blind started publishing the All Story, but I remember reading it when I was a boy at the Tennessee School for the Blind in the late 1930s. In view of the fact that the 1949 issue is Volume XVII, Number 11, we can make a calculated guess that the first issue was published in 1932 if we assume that every volume represents a year. In the beginning the magazine didn't have the Federation's legislative supplement, and I am not sure when the feature was added.
The February-March 1955 issue announced a feature that more recent readers of the Monitor may recognize. There were only three items: "Editor's Note," "Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind" (special feature), and "Legislation for the Blind" by Dr. Newel Perry.
In 1956, rather than carrying just a legislative supplement, the magazine began to publish general information of interest to the blind. With the May 1957 issue the All Story "resumed" a monthly publication schedule. We have no record of the publication schedule between October 1949 and February-March 1955. Finding the note in the May 1957 issue regarding the change from bi-monthly to monthly probably explains why we have both an April-May and a May issue for that year. Later in 1957 both the emphasis and the name of the magazine changed. The July issue carried the following announcement:
All Story Gets a New Name
Beginning with the next monthly issue, the name of this magazine will be changed to the Braille Monitor. We have been fortunate to be able to return to a monthly issue. This is made possible by a subvention from the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation News Section has become increasingly popular. Many of our readers have written to request that more space be devoted to this feature. Program and other developments concerning the blind--many of which are of the utmost importance to the blind men and women of this country--have been emerging in profusion. Even with the return to the monthly issue, a major fraction of the space of this magazine must be devoted to the coverage of these developments if our people are to continue to be informed.
It therefore seems only appropriate that we should now change the name of the magazine to one that does not state or imply that all of the contents are stories. Stories will continue to be republished to the extent that space is available.
According to the dictionary a "monitor" is a person who "advises, warns, or cautions." A Braille monitor is one who carries on this function for the blind, and this is the pledge of the editors of this magazine.
That is what the July 1957 All Story said, and the following month the magazine carried for the first time the title Braille Monitor. While previously the bulk of material had been stories plus a Federation news supplement, the balance now reversed. The newly titled magazine was primarily Federation news and carried stories only as space permitted, which it usually didn't. In fact, the first issue of the Monitor (August 1957) carried no stories at all.
In its thirty-six-year history the Monitor has had quite a variety of geographic locations and editorial configurations. It was edited in Wisconsin, in California, in Iowa, and in the District of Columbia; and of course it is now edited in Baltimore. [As soon as I took over in 1993, the editing work was done in Ohio, although the official address for the publication continued to be Baltimore.] During one period Dr. tenBroek was the editor. For a four-month hitch in 1960 I was editor. For quite some time Mrs. tenBroek did some of the editing and all of the layout and management. And there have been others--Dr. Floyd Matson [now deceased]; George Card, who fell by the wayside in the internal struggles of thirty-five [now fifty-one] years ago; and Perry Sundquist.
At the time we moved our headquarters to Baltimore in 1978, Don McConnell was editing the Monitor. He was located in the Washington office and was doing an excellent job. However, he left Federation employment just before the beginning of 1979 to accept a business opportunity, and I filled in as editor for a few months until we could find somebody else. That few months stretched to more than fourteen years.
The first recorded edition of the Braille Monitor was not, as many believe, produced in the late sixties. It was brought out in the fifties. As has already been noted, the April-May 1957 issue marked a definite change in the magazine's history. One of those changes was the inauguration of the Monitor on tape.
From April-May 1957 through March 1958, I did the reading. After I moved to Iowa to become director of the state commission for the blind (April 1958) the Monitor was first recorded by the women of the Jewish Temple Sisterhood and then (sometime during the fall of that year) by the inmates of the state penitentiary at Fort Madison, Iowa. One of the women from the Jewish Temple Sisterhood who did the reading was Dorothy Kirsner, the chairman of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. The recorded Monitor continued through December of 1960, at which time it was stopped, as were the Braille and print editions. I had forgotten some of the details and called them to mind only after listening to selections from some of those early tapes.
Everything (the recording, the duplicating, and the finished product) was done on open reel tape. As I remember it, we did not have duplicators but simply produced each tape from reel to reel at standard speed. It was a slow process, but the labor pool was sizable with a lot of surplus time. We had established a Braille and recording project at the state prison, and the production of the recorded Monitor was one of the results.
As to the duplication during 1957 and early '58, when I was still in California, there is some indication that at least part of it was done by inmates at San Quentin. But a major portion of it was done by one of the unsung heroes of our movement, a man named Victor Torey. Most Federationists have never heard of Victor Torey, but he deserves remembering. He was sighted and, to the best of my knowledge, had no blind family members. Nevertheless, he moved from Phoenix, Arizona, to the San Francisco Bay Area for the sole purpose of volunteering his time to do recording for us. Day after day, hour after hour he duplicated open reel tapes by patching two recorders together, and he did it without one penny of compensation. It was Victor Torey who produced the hundreds of open reel tapes that we distributed after the New Orleans convention in 1957.
The first professionally recorded edition of the Braille Monitor was produced in July of 1968. As a number of you will remember, it was a memorial issue honoring Dr. Jacobus tenBroek--our founder, first president, and longtime leader. Dr. tenBroek died March 27, 1968, and the recordings entitled Jacobus tenBroek: The Man and the Movement were ready in time for the 1968 national convention in Des Moines. What many Federationists do not know is that these recordings were approaching completion at the time of Dr. tenBroek's death and that I finished the final portion of the work only an hour or so after I was told that he had died.
The early recorded issues of the Monitor were produced at the American Printing House for the Blind on ten-inch 16 2/3 hard discs. Three changes occurred with the December 1970 issue. Larry McKeever was the reader for the first time; the records changed from ten to twelve inches in diameter; and we moved production from the American Printing House for the Blind to a commercial firm in Arizona.
With the December 1972 issue we shifted from 16 2/3 rpm to 8 1/3 but continued to use a twelve-inch hard disk. In February of 1974 we switched to nine-inch flexible disks, still recording at 8 1/3 rpm as we do today. With the introduction of flexible disks, we moved back to the American Printing House for the Blind, but we shifted to Eva-Tone the very next month and have stayed there ever since. From March 1974 through May 1978 we used eight-inch flexible disks but changed back to nine-inch flexible disks in June of 1978. [We stopped recording on flexible disks entirely in July of 1995.]
In January 1987 we began issuing the Monitor on four-track, 15/16 ips cassettes, but we went back to August of 1985 and put the Monitor on cassette from that date forward. With the February-March 1988 issue we started recording the Monitor in our own studios at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, and Jim Shelby succeeded Larry McKeever as reader. Ronald B. Meyer began in June of 1989. [Ron left in 1994 and was replaced by Craig Gildner, who stayed until mid-2004. Tyson Sapré recorded the Monitor for a little less than a year, and Will Schwatka, our current audio visual engineer, began work in August of 2005.] The cassette issue was first duplicated by a commercial firm in Washington, D.C. When we started recording the Monitor in 1968, we were producing only a little over a thousand copies. Today, with the advent of email and text and MP3 versions on our Website for reading and downloading in addition to the cassette, Braille, and large print editions, it is impossible accurately to measure Monitor circulation.]
There is a final tidbit of information I want to give you. The column titled "Monitor Miniatures" was originally called "Here and There." From 1961 through mid-1964 (when the Monitor was in eclipse and the Blind American was being published) the column was called "Brothers and Others." When we resumed publication of the Monitor in 1964, we adopted the name "Monitor Miniatures"―and have kept it ever since.